Strategy and Sausages:
A British Strategic Planner in Germany
Wednesday, 4 February 2015
Leveraging our alignment
The first time I heard the noun "alignment" in a business meeting, I was puzzled. It was twenty years ago and I'd just started working on P&G brands across Europe. I knew the verb "to align", of course, in relation to text on a page, and the noun "alignment" in reference to planets from the horoscopes. But the question was: "are we in alignment?" It was rather as if the questioner had asked "are we in outer space?" Where was "alignment?"
Eventually, the penny dropped and I blurted out, "oh, you mean do we have our ducks in a row?" Of course, I had replaced a (to me) unusual figurative use of a word with a (to some) strange English idiom, and I'm not sure that got us any further.
Since then, of course, as more and more brands go global, the word "alignment" has become a regular part of the business vocabulary. But the problem remains that, however often we use it, it's a word that is being used figuratively and is, as such, open to interpretation. It's very easy to say, but not so easy to put into practice.
The next time you use the word "alignment", or write it down in a proposal, maybe as an objective, have a think about what you mean. Are you using it as a covert simile for "agreement"? Are you really saying - do as I say?
My aversion to the word when used in a business context is this. Normally, the word is applied to inanimate objects that need to be lined up in order to function - parts of a machine, words on a page and so on. And maybe, you could argue, that you are talking about parts of a process or organisation, so it's fair enough.
But is it? Those "parts" are inevitably made up of people, who have opinions, views, thoughts, ways of working. People are complex, as are the networks that they form. Rather than alignment, shouldn't we be thinking of leading networks of human beings to work together towards a common goal or vision that everyone agrees on?
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
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